There’s much about which we can be confused and uncertain in today’s world. Yet, one thing is clear: Our future depends on a citizenry that possesses the capacity to function successfully in a complex, technological, rapidly changing world. An informed, skilled, and learning-capable citizenry and work force are becoming more important each day. The introduction of and rapid growth in artificial intelligence is just one of many shifts driving rapid and disruptive changes in the workplace. Today’s workplace demands and rewards workers who continue to learn and adjust in response to changing conditions, expectations, and functions.
We need a citizenry with strong learning skills and who value learning as key to their success. Economists and workplace experts point to this challenge with growing urgency and alarm. Consider a sampling of recent voices:
James Bessen, an economist and the executive director of the Technology and Policy Research Initiative at Boston University School of Law notes the importance of workers knowing how to learn rather than any specific skill, as technology related skills constantly change.
Heather McGowan, author of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, advises that schools must focus less on transferring knowledge and more on the ability of independent learning.
The World Economic Forum recently noted that in the 1980’s learned skills had a life cycle of three decades. Today, learned skills have a shelf life of five years.
Kelly Palmer and David Blake, authors of The Expertise Economy, make the argument that credentials no longer hold much importance. Employers seek skills, expertise, and the ability to learn.
Obviously, meeting this challenge is complex and will require significant shifts and realignment in our education system. However, there are actions we can take to increase the focus on learning and development of our students’ learning skills. Here are five steps we can take immediately:
Help students to set learning goals and identify steps and activities to help them reach those goals. Obviously, the goals need to be aligned with identified standards and competencies. But just as practical, the goals need to reflect student commitment more than the assigned goal itself.
Monitor the level of challenge presented for students to ensure success is possible with appropriate focus and effort. It shouldn’t be so easy that it prohibits new learning. Known as the Zone of Proximal Development, the best learning outcomes tend to be generated within this range.
Coach students to reflect as they struggle, make progress, encounter setbacks, and grow. The practice of reflection is among the most powerful learning strategies available. As students become increasingly skilled at reflection, they become increasingly independent learners.
Focus feedback and recognition on the effectiveness of learning strategies and aligned learning effort. Help students understand how their effective strategies and smart effort position them to learn increasingly difficult concepts and skills. Meanwhile, they’ll build confidence in their learning, as well as build tolerance for unsuccessful, initial learning attempts.
Whenever possible, frame new learning in the context of the value and purpose it represents. Purpose drives powerful learning. The more we can connect learning to the value it provides, the more students will come to appreciate learning, and the more likely they’ll choose to continue to learn, even when we aren’t present.
While we work with students to develop the skills necessary to become independent learners, we need to keep in mind that acquiring the skills to learn is only half of the formula for success. Unless students also have the desire to learn, possess the curiosity to learn, and understand the value of learning, the impact of their skills experiences limits. We need to focus our attention, support, and encouragement on the development of both elements in this success equation.